Saturday, 20 May 2017

LUCINDA


LUCINDA
A CAUTIONARY TALE

BY BARRY VAN-ASTEN

 
By the figurative mystery of this holy vestment, I will clothe me with
the armour of salvation in the strength of the Most High, ANCOR,
AMICAR, AMIDES, THEODONIAS, ANITOR, that so the end which
I desire may be affected, O ADONAI, through Thy strength, to Whom
be praise and glory for ever and ever.

[Prayer at Vesting. Lesser Key of Solomon.]

 

I have given more than enough of my time to the progress of mankind; to the little insignificancies that occupy the brain and the sorrows of the flesh and the false fluidity of mind. Perhaps out of some fool’s errand I imagined I had come to the end of my time on this planet dwelling amongst small things and appeasing my soul to the relentless thought that life expires with little care to what remains of us. Humanity had shown me nothing but cruelty and hatred and I tired desperately of it and wanted solitude and peace and beauty. And so, with little more than a snap of my fingers I disconnected from it, or at least did my utmost in trying to. I had worked hard for a hungry and tiresome manager in a small establishment in the city devoted to the corruption of society through the means of acquiring information on certain individuals who diligently broke the law. Like some caged animal with electrodes attached to my head, day in and day out answering to imbeciles who worshipped nothing except the Lord God Almighty and the Bank of England! (1) I escaped with my life and what’s left of my sanity and what money I had put aside. Fortunately some distant yet ‘much loved’ and now ‘dearly missed’ Uncle had sought the good sense and decency to expire and leave his inheritance to me!  I had never known him but you can bet that I made the appropriate emotional gestures before collecting the magnanimous sum of money! I bought an old narrow boat that was moored on a quiet stretch of the canal and feverishly made it ‘sea-worthy’ so to speak. I could have easily bought a new boat or had one made to my own speculations but it takes a long time for new things to acquire character and this old boat had it in spadefuls! There was a profusion of dark wood inside which gave it the appearance of a sombre and thoughtful space; there’s just something magical about dark wood with the grain clearly showing like some ancient fossil, for it was a living being absorbing energy and it still contains that energy… as a child I could sit for hours just peering into the dark history of the wood as if it were a book open before me and it would often induce some sort of trance state, but I digress, to complement the dark wood I added colourful curtains and furnishings and framed pictures on the walls that also burst with colour but there were a few prints and illustrations I was fond of too, and along each side of the boat, in every available space actually, I had made bookshelves, again with wood stained with a deep, dark varnish to be in keeping with the rest, which contained all the authors I had read and wanted to read, such as Lawrence and Chaucer and Dickens, and Dante, amongst others. They were with me and so I did not feel alone in the long hours after dark, where a log fire kept me warm and candles burned in glass lamps. Not that I ever really felt alone for I was such a being who as a child delighted in my own company and was never bored and never idle for my mind was easily turned to occupations of an artistic nature and reading had been my greatest love and still is! I felt as if I was on the precipice of some great adventure and I would live a simple life upon the water. Of course I had many interests to fill my time, such as watercolour painting and writing poetry, if it could be called such and academic interests such as Greek mythology and studying the esoteric arts. In fact, it was through my interest in Greek mythology that I came to name my boat ‘Prometheus’. Yes, my life afloat would be a perfect idyll.
I was a man of routine, each morning rising at eight and breakfasting before taking a walk and returning to continue some artistic venture I was pursuing such as painting or writing that I had begun. I kept a journal and in it I would write my thoughts and activities and all the secret little intricate eruptions of the mind that flower throughout the day; it was my companion and my confessor! Yes, it was a glorious life and little by little I grew more in my spiritual mind. Since very young I had been inquisitive about nature and religion and God and throughout my youth I made an examination of various systems and philosophies and after much deliberation and inner torment I came to the realisation that magick with its complete responsibility upon the practitioner was where my heart had drawn me! I had devoted much of my time to a strange and curious little book about the Goetic Art of Solomon and I came to study its forbidden lore, in fact it became somewhat of an obsession! (2)
Some months passed and my days were an endless rapture to me. During the day I would go on adventures and make sketches and studies of interesting things I found and during the evening and night I would write and study further my esoteric interests, beneath the boundless beauty of the moon and the stars.
Love had always been anathema to me, oh don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t some hideous monster without the capacity to love for my young mind was simply flooded by images of love and romance and it gave me the appearance of a bit of a dreamer I guess! There were a few occasions when I thought perhaps this would be the one and maybe this time I shall feel something more than just desire and actually behold something substantial but I was painfully wrong every time. There was one special person who entered my life and touched the outer limits of my soul and flourished dearly in my heart many years ago when I was just escaping the flush of my youth and I felt for the first time that magic which envelopes all life and gives meanings to dreams – she was everything to me! To think of her now is to trespass upon some sacred and beautiful vision for my heart will not relinquish her delicate wonder and my brain will not break free from the spell she cast over me!
As I said before I had made a long study of occult practices over the years and for many days I had immersed myself in Goetic Theurgy with the intention of performing a ritual and so I prepared the instruments of art according to the Lesser Key (3).

 
‘I invoke and conjure thee, O Spirit Gomory, (4) and, fortified with the power of the Supreme Majesty, I strongly command thee by BARALAMENSIS, BALDACHIENSIS, PAUMACHIE, APOLORESEDES and the most potent princes’ etc. (5)

 
The ceremony went accordingly and there was no need to resort to further conjurations and constraints as the spirit came obediently and willingly and communication was brief. To say anything more beyond these few suggestions would not be appropriate for ceremonial magic is of the High Art and should be treated accordingly just as any priest would refrain from diluting the magnificence of the mass.

 
‘O Spirit Gomory, because thou hast diligently answered my demands, I do hereby license thee to depart, without injury to man or beast. Depart, I say, and be thou willing and ready to come, whensoever duly exorcised and conjured by the Sacred Rites of Magic. I conjure thee to withdraw peaceably and quietly, and may the peace of God continue for ever between me and thee. Amen.’ (6)

 
Many weeks passed after the ritual was performed and I quite simply forgot all about it, and immersed myself in other occupations and interests which is the correct attitude to assume as any thoughts in that direction may hinder the work and the natural flow of the magical current. And so, with no more thoughts concerning the operation, life passed by like some dream, a dream in which I saw no-one and no-one saw me, for I was completely, to all intents and purposes, adrift from the world of humanity!
Late, one evening, I had just finished a painting of a little church I found in my wanderings when I heard a strange sound outside, on the side of the bank beneath the trees. Usually I would not concern myself with such trifles but something made me desire to know what was occurring outside and I felt a deep compulsion to investigate; I went to the stern and as I opened the door to look out I could see the lonely figure of a young woman of not more than twenty or so years in appearance, standing there in the rain, looking into the water.
‘Are you alright?’ I shouted to her but she did not appear to hear me.
I could see then that she was in some distress and was unable to answer. I went out onto the bank. Although it was quite dark beneath the trees I could see she was slight of build with a pale face and golden hair which seemed a little dirty and dishevelled. She wore a long coat which was tattered and strangely she had no shoes upon her feet.
‘Are you alright?’ I repeated, to which she replied, ‘I should not be here!’ and she let her head fall forwards and began to become unsteady upon her feet before she suddenly shook all over and seemed to regain her composure.
It was a cold night and so still having the remnants of the Samaritan in me I gestured her towards my boat and assisted her from the bank and onto the stern. Inside the fire was aglow and I offered her something to eat and drink. She seemed quite dazed by something but for all my questionings on the subject of who she was and why she was standing beside the waterside she would not or refused to speak of it. Eventually, when she began to get warm and drank some hot tea she began to speak a little:
‘Sorry to impose upon you’, she said, in almost a whisper, by the warm glow of the fire and she told me that her name was Lucinda, that she was nineteen years of age and that her father had thrown her out of his home for some reason or other that she would not disclose. I did not press her for an answer and told her she was welcome to take a hot shower if she wished and that she could stay for tonight as it was so cold outside, against my better judgement, but even I would not see some poor soul thrown to the elements when I could offer assistance. Ordinarily I would refrain from getting involved and giving assistance for many times the actions of the innocent are confused and looked upon as evil deeds which in some instances genuinely are evil, but for the most, there are fragments of compassion for one’s fellow human being, even if in small doses which do not appear too often! (7) And so Lucinda slept on the little pull-out bed which ordinarily was my sofa.
The next morning, I rose at my normal time to see the bed empty and Lucinda standing in the doorway.
‘It’s a beautiful day. Thank you for letting me stay, I appreciate your help’ she said quite despondently. There was a look about her which troubled me greatly, an indescribable loneliness, but I did not refer to it.
‘It was nothing! I did what anyone would do! Stay and have something to eat if you haven’t already?’
‘I haven’t eaten’ she said shyly, looking from my eyes, ‘you’re very kind!’ And over breakfast Lucinda slowly told me more about her life and the circumstances which led her here. Her eyes were large and sad and not once did a smile cross her face as she told me about her father who drank and didn’t understand her and never had any affection for her. Lucinda’s mother had passed away when she was a small child and so she never really knew much about her. It wasn’t long before a huge wave of emotion overcame Lucinda and she could speak no more through her tears. I said that I understood her predicament as I had also lost my mother when young but fortunately I did get to know her. I asked her what she intended to do now and she was at a loss for an answer. I said that she may stay a while, a few days or so until she feels stronger and is ready to go and sort her life out. The gratitude on her face almost resembled a smile mingled with tears and sadness, like some image of the young Christ, so much so that I felt an overwhelming strain of compassion upon me and was near the point of tears myself and so had to turn away. Seeing this, she put her hand in mine and looked long into my eyes without a word, there was nothing to say, it had been said by her eyes!

Over the next couple of days Lucinda took a great delight and interest in my painting which was very flattering and she professed some proficiency with a pencil too, sketching my likeness from time to time like some child shielding her work lest it be seen by a horrible adult! But she overcame her initial shyness and a semblance of trust was established and she redolently showed me her doodles and sketches, some of which were quite humorous and made me roar with laughter. It was in these moments that I saw her smile for the first time and seem happy; her eyes would be filled with a wondrous light and her gold shock of hair would fall to meet them in an attempt to hide her unmistakeable beauty from the world! I came to know her more and more and delighted in her company and any mention of her leaving I would sweep aside with my hand and say ‘maybe tomorrow’, but I knew ‘tomorrow’ would never come, or if it did I should feel very unhappy and lonely. Strange, I had never thought myself to be lonely until Lucinda entered my life that night, nine days ago, and to not be in her presence was to me insufferable and it seems time had no meaning for I did not want it to end. What was happening to me? A mature man of two and forty years whose every thought turned to Lucinda and her happiness and my happiness like some eager schoolgirl wanting to please the young man of her dreams! I knew full well what was happening to me but just did not want to admit it – I was falling in love with Lucinda!

As I said before, there was something strange about Lucinda, something that I could not put my finger on for try as I might to see beyond the beautiful radiance that she cast like some star, some new thought would suggest that I was being silly to suppose there was anything unusual about her. The only thing I did know for sure was that the simple pleasure of being around her, her youthful vibrancy and magnetic energy that pulled me closer and closer towards her sparked a new philosophy born within me, a philosophy of beauty, compassion and forgiveness for the human race, something that had died many, many years ago!
I suppose I must have always had these feelings, deep inside me but dismissed any idle fancy in that direction as mere unwanted fantasy; I know now that I have always buried the truth within and failed to come to terms with my own personal crises, until now!
I could not tell her how I felt and my only confidant was my journal to which I poured sonnets and songs to her name like some love-struck schoolboy or third-rate romantic poet (8).  What a fool! But love is a strange beast! I felt myself catching glimpses of her doing mundane things such as drinking her tea or brushing her teeth and thinking what a wonderful and sensuous young woman she was and I longed to feel her skin next to me and taste her sweet passionate lips on mine. Was it wrong to have such thoughts?

One day, I think it was the fourteenth day of knowing her, in fact, I know it was the fourteenth day of knowing her for I could relate everything to that time and could count the minutes I had known her for every day was like a year in her presence and I marked it well, anyway, on this day I came back from my walk in which I had taken a few photographs in the churchyard and I found Lucinda sitting at the table with my journal open in front of her and she was reading a poem I had composed about my feelings for her:

 

Lines to Lucinda

 

Deep in lustful wonderment
That echoed to my prayer;
I marvelled at the sacrament
And Lucinda was there!
Nights devoured by love… you came,
And days a fragrant joy –
Like a mad moth to the flame
Of Lucinda, was I!
And we rejoiced to the surrender
Of lips, a tremble to the kiss;
To delight in love so tender
And the heights of earthly bliss!
But the touch of your caress
Is God’s kiss from afar!
Lost in your sweet youthfulness –
I surrender to thee - Lucinda!

 
My world fell from under me and I raged at the sense of betrayal and that a great trust had been broken and that she should not have gone behind my back and… but Lucinda, remained calm and with her heavy-lidded eyes just looked at me and said ‘I feel the same way about you too but I was afraid to tell you as you have been so kind and I did not want to ruin our friendship’. At that moment my inner rage quelled and we both looked bashful at each other and smiled like silly children as she flung her slender arms around me and kissed me passionately. I was in a whirl of confusion, one minute I was angry, the next I was in ecstasy with this pale and beautiful young woman holding me tight and drowning me in a wave of kisses, locked in sensual surrender to each other. I knew nothing of time and I felt her hands stroking my hair as she kissed my face with tears of joy in her eyes. We embraced for what seemed an eternity and before long we were slowly and tenderly undressing each other and I felt no shame as I caressed her eager young body, pale and smooth…. And we stood together, naked in each other’s arms, our flesh tingling as one. She rained kiss after kiss upon me and I felt her hand slide down the arch of my back and caress me gently. Those beautiful red lips were ceaseless and my brain went whither I know not where, as if a curtain of white silk were gently wrapped around it. She pulled away from me and kissed me on the lips. Lucinda sat over me and she lowered her lips once more to mine, and we kissed long and deep. I didn’t want it to ever end as I brushed the hair from her eyes to see her beautiful young face. She showered me in kisses each more passionate than the last. ‘Lucinda!’ I whispered, again and again, as she leant back and I felt myself fall deeper and deeper into her soul. The rhythm of the boat gently swaying added to the magical delight we were weaving and our bodies pressed tightly in mounting waves of joy and ecstasy. We were bathed in each other’s passion as I pulsed all over with ecstasy.
There was hardly time for pausing as the boat rocked to and fro in waves of delicious ecstasy. We continued throughout the night in each other’s arms for there was no time for sleep and the next day we were late up and we rejoiced in our thoughts together as we kissed and ascended once more to the height of passion! She was my girl, my lovely girl and the love between us was immense!
We made love at every opportunity and not a night went by in which we did not worship at the altar of our lust. We became more daring and made love in the churchyard one night beneath the moon and it did not matter that it was cold for we were hot with indescribable passion. And soon after we were even bolder and entered the church one afternoon, closing the door behind us as we sought a quiet corner to be together. We kissed furiously as we worked some magic spell within the sanctity of ‘God’s House’. I put my lips to her and felt a sensual wave sweep over me. We shrieked with pain and pleasure, there in that little church! I gazed up and my attention was caught by a little silver crucifix depicting Christ’s torment and sorrow yet I felt nothing and mocked his abstinence for the lure of earthly flesh and the delight it gives. We crept from the scene of our love-making like two drained vampires. I often imagined the vicar giving his sermon, oblivious to the pagan magic evoked within his place of worship like some unholy baptism!
Sometimes we would wander through the woods at midnight and I recall dancing by moonlight, naked and unafraid like a god and goddess of old in some ‘other-worldly’ enchantment; a furious dance of death between the trees in an open clearing that ended in our surrender to passion’s sacrament as we kissed and explored every inch of our bodies, anointed by moonlight. It was at this time that she really opened up to me and told me about that night on the bank of the canal where I first glimpsed this young Beatrice, this beautiful Artemis, like some fabled water nymph. In fact, her father was neither a drunkard nor a heartless man for it appeared he was a clergyman and his young daughter, a great disappointment to him of whom he disapproved of her ways and fancies, did not fit into his life with the church, and so brow-beaten by Christian doctrine and torn between the love for her father and for her pagan beliefs and earthly delights, she chose the latter (as if it is a choice, but the hand of fate) and she walked away from that life seeking another, but in desperation, she had come to the end of her rope and was between life and death the moment I caught sight of her; on some vast precipice from which she was about to fall. But my hands reached out to her and faith in humanity was restored (on both sides I might add)! And so we lived life aboard the Prometheus in a perfect whirl of love and devotion and nothing disturbed our world. We painted and composed long dreadful poems together and laughed and loved and cried. I did not realise at the time what an absolute fool I must have seemed but I did not care and she was young and she made me feel young again and the spirit was strong within me to withstand any abuse that came my way, but we lived the secret life for who but ourselves could understand such a strange relationship and the world of age between us!  Not that we cared what people thought; what the rest of the dreadful world thought in fact for we had risen beyond such concepts as condemnation, but the secrecy was a form of our own device, a self-created deception in the magical sense which added to the supreme magical quality of our love much as catholic priests had to hide themselves away following the sacred mass which was forbidden, this ‘secrecy’ intensified our actions and our feelings!
Weeks were a whirl and nights were an endless dream… We savoured every moment together as if it would be the last and the lust between us increased in intensity and passion!
Lucinda was drawn to pagan practices and theory and she took a keen interest in the esoteric subjects I had been studying and wanted to learn more about it. She devoured my books like some hungry soul thirsting after knowledge and she seemed to grow in stature, lean and immense. She was the Priestess and Goddess that I worshipped –

 

‘In the moon of the woods, on the marble mount,
The dimpled dawn of the amber fount!’ (9)
 

Time passed as in some idyllic dream until life seemed to hold no meaning for me for she held me in complete fascination and suddenly there was a tangible darkness about her where there was only a radiant light, a darkness which was indescribable, yet fatally irresistible!
Subtle changes had occurred yet I closed my mind to them and instead of confronting these I changed along with them and by gradual steps I descended into greater darkness, a darkness we both shared.
We had been performing some rituals together and we had no notion or care of consequences all of a sudden and we drifted further and further into terrible horrors of the imagination.
There was a ritual we had devised to summon some awful deity to sight. I don’t know what possessed us but we were being directed and manipulated like pawn pieces in a deadly game of chess. Perhaps my judgement was clouded, in fact I know it was but I was dealing in devilish things I should not have dabbled with! Looking into her eyes became like looking into the pit of Hell and our sexual excess became more and more outrageous and we loved with abandonment known only to those of the darkness who prey upon the living. In fact, I cannot speak of all the things we did for fear even now of reprisals; you could say we had exhausted every sin and were inventing new ones to break! I hungered for her; I ached for her but I could not hold myself from falling, the temptation was too great and Lucinda was the greatest temptation and the greatest sin of all! She had eaten into my soul and my every thought and action was centred on her alone! Hard as I tried, I could not stop this tornado I was riding! She had corrupted every fibre of my being with her lust like a vengeful demon and I could not help but think that my dealings with the Goetia were behind it all and that Lucinda was possessed of some being I had awoken!
I searched through my books and came upon an exorcism which seemed appropriate and I made some preparations while Lucinda slept. With an eager heart I began to repeat the words of the exorcism:

 
‘O most merciful God, Whose power hath no limit, Whose dominion is supreme over all beings, so that nothing can possibly be estreated from Thy rule by apostasy; behold we have sinned against Thee, we have provoked Thy most just wrath’ etc. (10)

 
The next morning I awoke early to find Lucinda not in bed and not on board the boat. I wondered where she had gone and went outside to look for her but could see no-one. I became very fearful for all her belongings were gone and there was nothing to even show she had ever been there at all! Days passed and still I did not hear from her and I sank into the depths of despair! My world had fallen from a great height of love and devotion and over time I realised the full consequence of my actions! I never saw her again for she had disappeared as quickly as she entered my life and to this day I do not know what happened to her! I sold the Prometheus and cast my lonely figure into the world again!         

 

Si vous cherchez la morale à cette histoire, il n'y en a pas un!

 

 

NOTES:

 

1. One is said to destroy one’s soul and the other encourages financial ruin!
2. The Lesser Key of Solomon the King or ‘Lemegeton’ which gives instructions for the evocation of the seventy-two spirits who were confined in a brass vessel and cast into a deep lake by the King of Israel.
3. see The Key of Solomon the King (Clavicula Solomonis) translated and edited by S. Liddell MacGregor Mathers. 1889.
4. Gomory is a powerful duke that appears as a beautiful woman, wearing a ducal crown. He discovers past, present and future, as also the whereabouts of hidden treasures; he procures the love of women and especially of girls.
5. The First Conjuration.
6. The License to Depart.
7. ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense’.
8. When one mentions ‘third rate poets’ one is never far from thinking about William Wordsworth!
9. The Hymn to Pan by Aleister Crowley.
10. see the Manual of Exorcisms by the Abbe Eynatton. 1678.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

A STONE ROSES EARLY CLASSIC


THE STONE ROSES
TRADJIC ROUNDABOUT
 
 
 
 
The early Stone Roses sound has a raw energy which harks back to the days of punk, John Squire and Ian Brown were into ‘The Clash’ and a local Manchester band called ‘Slaughter and the dogs’ with their classic song ‘cranked up really high’. These influences can be heard on the band’s early recordings. One of the earliest songs written in 1984 is ‘Tradjic Roundabout’ and already it shows Ian’s aggressive punk singing style and John’s brilliant guitar structures. The song captures the passion and the vibrant energy of those early gigs, along with other songs such as ‘Fall’ with its ‘I’m not your darling, darling/I wanna see you falling!’ and ‘Tell me’. I love the song and think it’s the best song from their early period and I have had a go at transcribing the lyrics which I hope are correct:

 

Tradjic Roundabout
The Stone Roses

 

‘Witches, warlocks and vulture-men too –
Martin Luther had nothing on you!
He had a dream; you’ll have a baby, baby,
Will you cope, I don’t know, maybe.

Your CIA in Mothercare,
They’ll screw you up cos you’re not all there!
I see submission in a million eyes,
Dream-weaving habits are still telling lies!

Ah you’re not so gifted at all, at all.

Bitches, basements, all over the land,
Just checking pulses with half-dose in hand!
You think you’re righteous cos you’re smoking some shit,
And I’m the one that pays for it!

Ah you’re not so gifted at all, at all,
And we’re not so gifted at all, at all.

Woo!

And you’re not so gifted at all, at all,
And we’re not so gifted at all, at all.’




 
The song was originally recorded in 1985 for The Stone Roses first album which was produced by Martin Hannett. The album was not released as the band was not happy with it. The album was eventually released in 1996 as ‘Garage Flower’ and the track listing for the album is:

  1. "Getting Plenty" – 4:04
  2. "Here It Comes" (Brown/Squire) – 2:39
  3. "Trust a Fox" – 3:03
  4. "Tradjic Roundabout" – 3:12
  5. "All I Want" – 3:39
  6. "Heart on the Staves" – 3:19
  7. "I wanna be Adored" (Brown/Squire) – 3:29
  8. "This Is the One" (Brown/Squire) – 3:41
  9. "Fall" – 2:49
  10. "So Young" (Brown/Squire) – 3:18
  11. "Tell Me" (Brown/Squire) – 3:52
  12. "Haddock" – 0:14
  13. "Just a Little Bit" – 3:08
  14. "Mission Impossible" – 3:48
 




THE STONE ROSES
Reni, John, Mani and Ian
from meeting them at
Wolverhampton Crown Court
Thursday 26th April 1990

Saturday, 18 March 2017

THE LENT LILY


THE LENT LILY

BY

BARRY VAN-ASTEN

 

 

Lady Amelia Cotgrave-Stuart had been making preparations all morning for her garden party. Since the loss of her husband Major Sir Andrew Cotgrave-Stuart thirteen years ago she had thrown herself into social engagements and was very fond of entertaining guests who were on the social ascendancy. The Cotgrave-Stuarts had been a much devoted couple and the Major’s death was a great blow dealt to her Ladyship for they had had the perfect arrangement for a marriage – he served in his Regiment abroad and she was the perfect and most dutiful wife in England, seeing each other twice a year. The unlikely product of this perfect union was a son, namely Aloysius Nightingale Cotgrave-Stuart in his eleventh year. It was a gloriously sunny morning and the birds were singing in the trees as spring had arrived uncommonly early in Chiswick.
Lady Amelia’s first guests to arrive were the celebrated poet Oscar Wilde and his good friend Lord Alfred Douglas, whom Wilde referred to as ‘Bosie’. Lady Amelia greeted Mr. Wilde and his companion cordially and invited them into the drawing-room with its huge French windows overlooking the garden and she turned to Oscar,
‘Mr. Wilde, I hope it won’t be to your displeasure but I have invited the curate, Reverend Thomas Steadman, are you familiar with him?’
‘Indeed I have had the misfortune madam,’ Wilde replied, ‘for I was once asked reluctantly to attend one of his abominable sermons. It was a splendid tirade if I remember and I recall that Reverend Steadman is the only “man of the cloth” with the ability to make the glorious Passion of Christ sound like the cloying death of “Little Nell”! It brought tears to my eyes, not tears of emotion and sadness but tears of laughter! And more recently I was asked to attend the Church Fete and give a talk on “Art and Aesthetics” and once more I was brought to tears, tears of joy in fact, for the good Reverend had left undone that which a gentleman never leaves undone, in the trouser region madam! I had to escort myself from the Church Hall for I was quite purple in the face in floods of uproarious laughter!’
‘How disgraceful!’ said Bosie.
‘Yes, well, and what do you do Lord Alfred?’ enquired Lady Amelia.
‘As little as possible as often as possible! In fact, I am rather strict about my daily regimen – I spend enormous hours exercising my ability to be completely idle and doing absolutely nothing!’ said the handsome Bosie.
‘Lord Alfred’s attitude is very common amongst the young I’m afraid Lady Cotgrave-Stuart, he pleads abject poverty to anyone who will listen to him and his father the Marques of Queensbury boasts of his exorbitant wealth to anyone who will listen to him, though they never speak or listen to each other!’ explained Wilde.
‘That is a great shame Lord Alfred! Mr Wilde’, said Lady Amelia turning to Oscar, ‘they tell me you are the wealthiest man in all of London!’
‘That is incorrect madam’ answered the clean-shaven bard, ‘for that auspicious displeasure falls upon the awful obnoxious head of that poisonous impostor Mr. George Bernard Shaw who delights in advertising his remarkable and vulgar wealth as if he were of papal occupation; he tirelessly parades his theatrical inability all across London! I make it a point, in fact a religious oath, to never see any of his tedious plays and to cut him dead whenever I am unfortunate to be in his presence. It is the least one can do for the sake of art!’
‘Money is the root of all evil’ retorted Bosie’ ‘and when Oscar comes into his inheritance he intends to be thoroughly wicked with it!’
Her Ladyship escorted the two gentlemen into the garden and pointed out the spring beds and borders. ‘What a charming and delightful garden you have your Ladyship! Such beautiful flowers! I often wish that I were green-fingered you know!’
‘Are you fond of horticulture Mr. Wilde?’
‘Only at a safe distance madam and in small doses, for nature can be truly horrific; I find nature invariably falls short of one’s idea of perfection – only man achieves absolute perfection!’
The young boy Aloysius had been busy chasing Lady Amelia’s cat Clytemnestra when he suddenly stopped and walked up to Mr. Wilde and said ‘they tell me you are a poet sir!’
‘Who is spreading such vicious lies and rumours about me?’ retorted Oscar fiercely, ‘I shall bring charges against them!’
‘It is common knowledge’ answered Aloysius ‘and public opinion says that…’
‘I never repeat any knowledge which purports to be common’ interrupted Oscar, ‘and I never listen to public opinion! It is invariably wrong in its judgements and vastly exaggerated! No, I am in fact what is known as a “living and breathing poem” which is what all great poets strive to achieve but fail utterly to accomplish! Are you fond of poetry my young Narcissus?’
The boy looked quizzical and answered with perfect nonchalance – ‘No, I find it is a lot of nonsense about something and nothing all wrapped-up in fancy words!’
‘What a delightful and perceptive young thing you are! Bosie, I fear the boy’s young eyes have been exposed too soon to that old satanic show-off Swinburne for to form such an opinion of poetry he must be truly damaged beyond belief and the precious bloom of his ignorance has disappeared irretrievably! Tell me, who is this charming yet somewhat melancholy Aristotle?’ said Wilde, turning to Lady Amelia.
‘That Mr. Wilde is my son Aloysius’.
‘Does he bite?’ expressed Bosie.
‘More to the point’ continued Wilde ‘is he housetrained madam? Remind me Bosie to inform dear Mr. Dowson that his eager public anxiously awaits his next volume of “nonsense about something and nothing!”’ Lady Amelia frowned as Wilde continued,
‘He is wise beyond his years and a great credit to you Lady Amelia!’
‘Thank you Mr. Wilde, he really is the most well-behaved young man in all of London I believe and I foresee great things ahead for him!’ said a proud Lady Amelia.
‘How unfortunate Lady Amelia! That will all change when he comes of age, do not be despondent madam!’ Wilde said, bowing his head towards the little gentleman.
‘He has great prospects,’ gushed Lady Amelia to Oscar, ‘he is at Eton and is destined for Oxford I am told!’
‘Many a flowering mind has been crushed and ruined by an Oxbridge education and Eton simply lets anybody through its doors these days! Imagine my consternation to learn that my butcher has one of his offspring who is a young Etonian!’
The group walked a little further down the garden and came to a chair with a man seated upon a cushion, ‘what have we here Lady Amelia, a rare bloom indeed?’
‘My father gentlemen, may I present Lord Rothwell!’ Lord Rothwell was oblivious to the intrusion and unable to greet the company. ‘You must forgive his Lordship’ said Lady Amelia, ‘he is meditating!’
‘Does he often snore when he meditates?’ enquired Mr. Wilde.
‘Continuously, for I find the deeper the trance, the louder the snore!’ returned Lady Amelia.
‘I often find the same thing happening in Church, for the pews are filled with people busy meditating; they must attain a very high level of spiritual enlightenment for the snoring is positively cacophonous!’
Lady Amelia took Bosie aside and asked him if it is true that Mr. Wilde is truly a genius. ‘But of course’, Bosie answered, ‘he would take great delight in stating the fact, as he does, often, but between you and me, the man is all surface and no substance, for it is I who am the real inspiration behind his genius and without me he would surely starve! Society craves men of genius and Oscar craves society’. Just then Oscar pushed his quivering smooth chin between Lady Amelia and Bosie and having nonchalantly lit his cigarette, which was a true artistic endeavour in itself, paused and said ‘did I hear mention of “society”? It is to my eternal shame that society is so simple to enter, yet so very difficult to exit – much like marriage!’ Lady Amelia found this amusing and said so which in turn amused Bosie for he was so easily amused.
‘Have you never thought Mr. Wilde’ asked Lady Amelia ‘of growing a moustache, you would look so distinguished!’
‘I’m afraid I haven’t the energy or the patience for such matters madam – elegance must be instantaneous or not at all; I am not prepared to wait for nature to produce what art can do immediately!’
‘There is nothing “instant” or “immediate” about your appearance Oscar, for it is the result of a life-long obsession with your own vanity!’ Bosie declared.
‘Nonsense’ spouted Wilde, ‘in fact, I make it a strict rule to spend a minimum of three hours in the morning, not a minute less, on my attire, a rule which I repeat in the afternoon and again in the evening before dinner! To return to the moustache madam, I find it is the last refuge of a man with something to hide!’
‘But the curate has a moustache!’ Lady Amelia said.
‘I rest my case!’ Wilde said gleefully.
‘And so did my late husband, God rest him!’ her Ladyship said, through pursed lips.
There was an uneasy silence which was broken by the tea things which were brought out into the garden by the maid and a plate of delicious looking scones with cream and jam were laid on the table. As well as the tea accoutrements there was a decanter of Sherry which the two gentlemen accepted instead of the tea! The maid then informed her Ladyship that the curate had arrived and was ‘securing his bicycle to the railings for Chiswick is a notorious hotspot for bicycle thieves’ as the curate had said and ‘one can’t be too careful can one?’
‘Do help your selves’ gentlemen!’ said Lady Amelia as she and Aloysius went off to greet the curate. Oscar and Bosie confided together before her Ladyship and the curate joined them – ‘Did you ever meet the Major?’ enquired Bosie of Oscar. ‘Unfortunately not, I am told he was an excellent conversationalist when not in the company of his dear wife, which was more often than not!’
‘The boy is quite exquisite is he not, a fallen angel in the making don’t you think?’ Bosie suggested, adding ‘strange that he is only eleven years old and the Major passed thirteen years ago! Surely there is some discrepancy there?’
 ‘Yes, a fair Ganymede indeed! There have been rumours in that location as to his origins, some say he is the result of an illicit liaison; it is an age-old predicament whereby the aristocracy fall for the romantic entanglements of the lower classes. Vulgarity is a trait exclusive to the upper classes and poverty is a condition peculiar to the lower classes – both are exceedingly ugly! As to the boy, the matter is never mentioned!’ Oscar poured himself another Sherry.
‘I do hope you become exceedingly drunk Oscar’, said Bosie, grinning, ‘you’re always brilliant when you’re wonderfully tight!’
Lady Amelia and the curate followed by the angelic Aloysius joined Wilde and Bosie and following introductions they all sat down to tea.
‘Mr. Wilde’ said the curate, ‘I have been reading your poems and I must say they really are quite beautiful!’
‘Ah curate’ intoned Wilde, ‘if I want flattery I go to my tailor for he seems to be under the false impression and outrageous misconception that flattery will result in my paying my tailor’s bill! Of course it is quite the opposite for the more he flatters me the more I spend and the longer the unpaid bill becomes! No, for the sake of dignity curate, you simply must read Baudelaire!’
‘Are you a religious man Mr. Wilde?’ enquired the curate.
‘With no disrespect to your good self sir, the foundation of the church was built upon hypocrisy! I consider myself a lapsed pagan for I have lost my faith in nature! But I suppose one could call me an apostle of aestheticism!’
‘Oscar’s a true heathen curate, whereas I have a great admiration for the finer points of Catholicism!’ Bosie declared.
‘May I tempt you to one of my cucumber sandwiches Mr. Wilde?’ said Lady Amelia pushing a plateful under Oscar’s nose.
‘Usually I yield to temptation madam, it is much simpler than resisting it but on this occasion I shall refrain!’ Wilde stated.
‘Dear Oscar suffers chronic indigestion with cucumbers, in fact; he has an abhorrence of anything green when served upon a plate before him!’ Bosie informed her Ladyship.
‘Quite true Bosie, in fact I react outrageously when presented with anything limp and green and edible because it so reminds me of all the hideous defects in nature! Salad and attempting to read Wordsworth bring me out in ghastly boils so I swore before the Almighty Ruskin never to digest either! The only green I am able to appreciate are jade stone, my green carnation and Absinth which my physician prescribes and strictly insists I take before, after and instead of meals!’ Lady Amelia was uncertain as to what direction the conversation was turning and offered the curate her sandwiches one of which he took just to show that he did not prescribe to Wilde’s outlandish notion of nature! ‘I don’t think you are being quite sincere Mr. Wilde’ said the curate ‘and I think perhaps you are making fun of me and my profession!’
‘Not at all curate’ Wilde said brushing the curate’s arm with his hand, ‘I am being quite serious. If one is virtuous one doesn’t seem to get a look-in with the Church but the minute one starts sinning it’s like a red rag to a bull and one can’t move for dog collars and cassocks making claims upon the soul! Once one breaks beyond the bastion of the ecclesiastical dog collar, you will find a guilty man taking refuge! The Anglicans are very good at pointing out the wrongdoings of their congregation and the Roman Catholics have cornered the market in suffering! The sad fact is the crucifixion has been done to death!’
‘You are a most conceited man Mr. Wilde and no doubt that is part of your charm!’ exclaimed the curate.
‘A man whose charm is always on the offensive is to his own detriment most offensive!’ Wilde said joyfully!
‘I really must agree’ interjected Lady Amelia ‘I don’t believe I have ever met such a conceited man!’
‘She has a point Oscar!’ said the tipsy Lord Alfred who had been filling his glass several times from the Sherry decanter.
‘At last, chivalry rears its unwanted and vastly overrated head!’ Wilde said with a nod and a wink towards Bosie and then turned to Lady Amelia - ‘Nonsense your Ladyship for I have it on good authority that only last season you entertained that old rascal Dickens and a more conceited man never walked the earth!’ Mr. Wilde sat back in his chair quite content with the verbal jousting.
‘I must say’ Wilde said slowly, ‘there is no greater time in all the year which equals Eastertide, everything seems so new and delicate! Do you not agree curate?’
‘I concur fully Mr. Wilde yet it is indeed a busy time for the church!’ the curate snorted helping himself to a jam scone.
‘Lent has such a curious fascination for me. Do you know the story of the Lent Lily?’
‘No!’ said Lady Amelia, ‘do tell it!’
‘It was a time of great bloodshed when the Roman army occupied Britain. The story of Christ was told by some early Christians and those that were caught were swiftly put to death. There were no churches as we have today for these followers of Christ’s word to congregate in and worship so they gathered in small glades and copses and celebrated with tales of Christ. They came to look upon the Lily as a symbol of Christ and his suffering for it appears at the time of Lent. The Romans were not happy with these unorthodox meetings and many were broken up and the followers dealt with, given the most inhumane punishments which satisfied the senate that order was being kept in Roman Britain and religious thoughts were not aloud to flourish and flower among the primitive race of the Britons! The Romans learnt that these early Christians had venerated the Lily and heaped symbolism upon it concerning the death of Christ and they were ordered to cut down all the Lilies in the land which they did. The following year the Lilies grew once more and once again the early Christians worshipped the flower for its ability to appear, like the physical resurrection of Christ! And once again the flowers were destroyed by the Romans, cut down and uprooted and burnt throughout the land! Eventually, when the Romans were driven out of Britain the early Christians noticed that the flower appeared during Lent and on Easter Day seemed to sacrifice itself, and as if by some miracle it would re-appear the next year, mirroring Christ’s suffering and resurrection! And so the Lily became known as the Lent Lily!’
‘I’m not sure that’s quite true Mr. Wilde, at least I have never heard that story before!’ the curate said with a playful smile upon his face, as if his leg were being not just pulled but twisted into the bargain too!
 ‘Tell me’ continued Lady Amelia, ‘aren’t you afraid of being found out?’
‘Madam I am always being “found out” by bill collectors – my only fear is that one day I shall be “found in” and expected to honour one’s debts!’
Just then the maid returned to inform her Ladyship that Mrs. Harribel-Jones had arrived. Mrs. Harribel-Jones was an inveterate gossip and had been rather looking forward to meeting the famous Mr. Wilde.
‘I hate to inform you Mr. Wilde’ said her Ladyship rising to greet Mrs. Harribel-Jones and taking him aside ‘and I would not mention it in front of the others, but you have a spot of jam decorating your necktie!’
‘I am aware of it madam for I put it there myself with my own fair hands. Don’t you think its colour exceptional, like the blood of Christ glistening in the sunlight! Think nothing of it madam, it is a mere affectation; it shall be “all the thing” next season!’
Mrs. Harribel-Jones, a large ‘un-corseted’ lady with the complexion of thistles joined the party and was delighted to be introduced to the great Mr. Wilde.
‘You must forgive me Mr. Wilde for being a little late as I had an appointment with my oculist!’ explained Mrs. Harribel-Jones.
‘Are you a practitioner of the dark arts madam?’ enquired Mr. Wilde.
‘I think you are mistaking my oculist for “occultist” sir!’ Mrs. Harribel-Jones said a little confused yet triumphantly.
‘Forgive me madam’ Wilde said courteously, ‘as it is such an easy mistake to make, for the one opens one’s eyes to the glories of irreligious immorality and the other turns a blind eye to pious respectability!’ Mrs. Harribel-Jones delighted in Wilde’s company and they talked a little on Shakespeare, declaring that if he had taken more consideration over his plays he may have become more well-known and that Huysman was ‘positively all the rage in Bohemia!’
The subject turned towards literary criticism and Mrs. Harribel-Jones asked Mr. Wilde if he would kindly look over her unpublished memoirs and review them with a design on publication.
‘Thank you madam’ said Mr. Wilde, ‘but I do not receive manuscripts. I am positively besieged by requests for my thoughts upon this book or my artistic impression of that play – it takes a certain order of being, malevolent by nature and of a tired, drab appearance, tarnished by the mud of ruined reputations to really do it injustice! These monsters are known in the theatrical trade and no doubt throughout all artistic avenues as “hypo-crits”!
‘Another more familiar name is “parasite”!’ suggested Bosie, ‘and let us not forget “philistine”!’ he added.
‘I really must disagree’ erupted the curate, ‘for where would we be without the careful eye watching over the intricacies of artistic expression to make sure it is suitable for society!’
‘God willing we would undoubtedly have “The Yellow Book” sir, and when I speak of God I am of course referring to Mr. Walter Pater!’ intoned Wilde.
‘Society should learn to mind its own business and to blazes with it!’ defended Bosie. The curate looked decidedly unsettled as Wilde whispered to Bosie ‘ah, the coup de grace!’
‘You must excuse my young friend here curate’, said Wilde steadying Lord Alfred, ‘he doesn’t normally react this way with Sherry, I think he has been mixing his metaphors again!
‘I think it is most inappropriate especially with Easter on the horizon and the good Lord on the cusp of once more shedding the darkness and flooding the world with light again!’ the curate said with his delicate, soft hands joined in prayer before him.
‘I quite agree it’s absolutely outrageous!’ Wilde said with a contemptuous look often found in pulpits. ‘I often read the lives of the Saints’ he continued, ‘and delight in their chaste and pious existence – they are such defining examples to us!’ Suddenly the curate warmed to Mr. Wilde for here was a subject that he knew well and was gracious to extend upon. ‘The Liturgy’ the curate began, ‘is filled with righteousness and suggests ways in which to live a fulfilling and worthy life sharing God’s word and…’
‘Yes quite’, interrupted Wilde, ‘but where is the story of Saint Judas? Why do we not hear about this neglected Saint? After all, he was one of the apostles and he was also doing God’s work as foretold by Christ when he turned Christ over to the Romans! That kiss of betrayal, man has been repeating it ever since! The fact that he died by his own hand should surely strengthen the case for Sainthood for he must have felt the guilt of the world upon him to take such steps and here we are almost two thousand years later calling him a “bad man” – forever condemned as a distrustful monster; he is a byword for everything disloyal and greedy, yet in my opinion he was the only apostle that truly loved Christ because he did not shirk from abandoning Christ even when Christ knew what he was about and forgave him for it! A chaque saint sa chandelle!’ The curate sat wide-eyed and without explanation. It was Lady Amelia who came to the rescue: ‘Attend to me Mr. Wilde’ said Lady Amelia, and after Mr. Wilde excused himself they walked together through the garden, leaving Bosie and the curate staring bemused at each other, and Mrs. Harribel-Jones feeding the ever unsatisfied stomach of Mrs. Harribel-Jones!
‘I am a little out of sorts Mr. Wilde for I received bad news this morning concerning an Aunt of mine who passed in the night and I was considering cancelling the garden party!’
‘How inconsiderate of the good Lady that she could not postpone the inevitable, Death is such an ill-mannered and unexpected guest! You have my sincere condolences madam!’ 
‘Thank you Mr. Wilde. It falls upon me of course to make the necessary arrangements as she never married and lived a quiet and simple life in Hastings!’
‘I find death and Hastings so inseparable for one does not exist without the other!’ said Wilde. ‘In fact, one never knows whether one is in Hastings or actually beyond the veil of life where there is absolutely nothing more than “quiet and simple” much like Hastings! She was fortunate not to marry, for I find all women attempt to make an immoral man virtuous which of course is their strength! But likewise, all men allow the fairer sex to make virtuous men of them and that sadly is their weakness!’
‘Talking of marriage Mr. Wilde, I have been contemplating that monumental position myself but I have many obstacles to overcome in deciding.’ Lady Amelia said discreetly.
‘Is there someone special madam?’ enquired Wilde.
‘No, not particularly; but I am unsure as to the period of widowhood and the question: have I made a good show of grieving my late husband the Major as to not upset society?’
Wilde looked a little quizzical and said ‘Madam I was not aware that there was a strict period of widowhood and I should think thirteen years quite sufficient to the memory of your dearly departed husband! Sometimes the oldest tree bears the softest fruit and we must not forget that we are living in an age of dignified splendour beneath a veneer of respectability that constrains the ordinary impulses; the world is changing madam and although Her Majesty Queen Victoria, whom I might add has set a precedence upon mourning, still darkens the throne and bathes England in a sea of black crepe and crinoline, there is an air of indifference and we are on a new threshold – Society must change with it or get left behind by it!’
‘I am glad to have your mind on the subject Mr. Wilde; I am not disappointed by your thoughts!’
Mr. Wilde and Lady Amelia walked back towards the company and Wilde could see that Bosie had slumped into a chair and was joining Lord Rothwell in his meditation, snoring very loudly indeed!
‘I am sorry your Ladyship but I think it is time my young friend and I departed for he has made a thorough exhibition of himself, much to the curate’s dismay and if it were not for the genteel ladies (and the charming Aloysius) we would have outstayed our welcome in the first few minutes of introduction! Come Bosie, once again your radiance has outshone me and there is nothing I hate more than being second best!’ Following the exit of the great man and the brilliant Bosie the garden party broke up, the curate went off to prepare yet another ‘abominable’ sermon, Aloysius ran off and chased her Ladyship’s cat Clytemnestra; Mrs. Harribel-Jones just managed a couple more scones before leaving and Lady Amelia Cotgrave-Stuart was left to contemplate the prospect of marriage!

Sunday, 12 March 2017

THE HAUNTED STAIRCASE AT OUNDLE

THE TALBOT HOTEL
OUNDLE, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE



THE TALBOT HOTEL
 
The Talbot Hotel in New Street, Oundle is reputedly haunted by the ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots who was held prisoner at nearby Fotheringhay Castle and where she was also executed. But why would she haunt The Talbot Hotel in Oundle?



DRUMMINGWELL LANE
 
 
There is also a spooky legend concerning a spring well which was located at the rear of The Talbot. The well was said to 'drum' or at least to sound as if a drum was being beaten. Unfortunately the well was filled in but the lane at the rear of The Talbot Hotel still bears its name.



THE STAIRCASE

Back to the ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots and why she haunts The Talbot. There has been a Public House located on this site since 638 AD. During Tudor times it was known as The Tabard or The Tabret. The oak staircase at The Talbot was removed from Fotheringhay Castle prior to its demolition in the 17th Century and is surely the staircase down which Mary would have been led to her execution!
 



In October 1586 Mary was tried in Fotheringhay Castle and found guilty!





On 8th February 1587 she was executed by beheading in the Great Hall of the castle.






The magnificent façade of The Talbot Hotel was extensively rebuilt in 1625 using stone from Fotheringhay Castle.





The landlord of The Talbot at that time was William Whitwell and he also bought the staircase!






It is said that the ghost of Mary still descends down the stairs and light disembodied footsteps like that of a woman have been heard on the stairs. She has been seen at the top of the stairs wearing a long white gown with a white cap too and she is also said to look out of one of the landing windows. As if that wasn't enough 'things that go bump in the night' the sound of a woman crying has also been heard!





One of the splendid rooms at The Talbot Hotel





 
The corridor which looks down upon the courtyard






The corridor from the opposite end

Another location said to be haunted in Oundle is not too far from The Talbot Hotel, The Ship Inn on West Street where local legend says that the spirit of a  former landlord who jumped from an upstairs window to his death still walks this 14th Century coaching house! His ghost has been seen and felt, particularly on the stairs!





Saturday, 25 February 2017

ECHOES OF A YOUNG ANARCHIST


ECHOES OF A YOUNG ANARCHIST

REMINISCENCES OF SCHOOLDAYS

BY

BARRY VAN-ASTEN

 

Having attained an age whereby I think it is fairly safe to ascertain that most of the illustrious creatures and sado-masochistic beasts that had a hand in my educational years have passed from this world of excess and depravity into more pleasant pastures, I bethought it wise to recall a few haunting escapades and glorious moments from my school days before it is all lost to oblivion. My only excuse is to preserve these simple tortures for the benefit of history. My initial dilemma has been one of discretion: should I change names to protect the innocent? And then I thought to hell with it, most of them are probably decrepit or gracing their graves and busy fuelling the fires of Hell so I shall present an honest account. It is not my intention to cause unnecessary offence or to be exceptionally insulting or to ‘get my own back’; I am just presenting my opinion from the perspective of the young boy who was there!
I attended Wheelers Lane Secondary Boys School in Birmingham from 1980-1985 and thoroughly detested my time there! Throughout my years at the school I was always in the second from top class (there were four form classes) and there was a good mixture of wannabe swots and intellectual psychopaths or roughs! Any weakness or signs of effeminacy were quickly seized upon and dealt with appropriately. There was one boy I recall who expressed a wish to join the Royal Navy when he left school – he had signed his own death warrant! The Navy being associated with homosexual practices (or so it was to our young minds) the rest of his time at school was made a living hell by constant taunts; but he seemed capable of taking the pounding in his stride and probably went on to achieve his goal! I had my share of tackling bullies from my time at Billesley Junior School where I fought the strongest boy in one year and the strongest boy in another! I also remember having chewing gum cut out of my hair and having internal bleeding from an older boy punching me in the stomach in 1976! I quickly learnt to make people laugh and it always helped having a good pair of fast legs, but wherever possible I stood up to them, took my beating and went back for more as a show of determination which often won through and warranted some sympathy or respect!
Perhaps the only real period I enjoyed, if being incarcerated for the best part of the day and made to do things one doesn’t want to do can be called enjoyment was my first year at the school when everything seemed new and strange. All the older boys seemed like big men to us small boys and they seemed to do what the hell they liked and get away with it; breaking the rules and sticking two fingers up to the teachers! They were a strange mixture of Mods, Rockers, Skinheads, Punks and Teddy Boys … all flouting the school uniform regulations.

There was a decidedly unwholesome Welsh element to the teaching staff from the Headmaster Mr. Griffiths; I’m not sure if the Deputy Head Mr. Rough, affectionately known as ‘Daddy Rough’ was Welsh or not, but there was also the P.E. teacher Mr. Roberts known as ‘Taffy’ who sported a moustache, and the bearded Mr. Kirkby who took Geography. Each morning began with an Assembly in the Hall as we awaited the presence of Mr. Griffiths to utter his words of wisdom leaning on his lectern like some mad dictator following the strains of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance march!
My form teacher for my first year of school was Mr. Evans, a large bearded Welsh man who taught woodwork and rugby, not being greatly interested in sport the latter filled me with horror for I had and still have a very real aversion to mud! And it always seemed to be so bloody cold when we played either at the school or on Billesley Common!
My absolute nightmare at school was mathematics, perhaps that’s not quite true for I quite enjoy the subject now but why is it taught by such evil bastards at school that they make it detestable and spoil the subject for any future learning? Throughout my years at the school there was one who walked those ghastly corridors who was pure evil personified; a man so detested by me that he was nothing short of the Devil incarnate! The teacher in question was the mathematics teacher, or at least one of them named Mr. Hobbs. He was a pint-sized, portly, pipe-smoking old man who I believe had been in the RAF as far as I knew; a man who wore the air of a hero and didn’t mind reminding everyone of it that he single-handedly defeated the German Luftwaffe! If he was in a good mood, i.e. not breathing fire or pulling the heads off small boys you only got the chalk thrown at you; if he was in a bad mood it would be followed by the wooden blackboard rubber! His gruff and croaking voice would rise and fall and some of his talk would be almost inaudible and to show his contempt, which he did often, he would give a great sniff as if to say ‘you’re not fit to lick my shoes boy!’ I believe it would be safe to say that he wasn’t overly keen on foreigners or anything that was not ‘English’ and having a foreign name myself that swiftly put me on his list of ‘pupils to destroy with utter misery’ and he took great delight in his tasks! He would set us our work to do and sit at the front of the class casting glances and directing vitriol towards us as he flapped and fouled himself like a great bird of doom before it was time at the end of the lesson for him to squawk in that hideous voice which to this day torments me: ‘Homework!’ I passionately wanted to do what Mr. Hitler had failed to do – kill Mr. Hobbs! I spent my dinner hour (lunch in less enlightened counties) pondering the many and most inventive ways of murdering him and in class whenever he would cough and splutter I looked expectantly towards him, praying for him to fall to the ground in agony and expire before the class to cheers and clapping of hands! It never happened!
Another maths teacher was Mr. Ball. I actually liked Mr. Ball, known as ‘Uncle Jack’ as I believe his first name was Jack, because he was such a good sport. He was quite old and doddery and could be mistaken for a simple-minded man, yet he was sharp as a tack and despite his hard of hearing and his mumbling in class he was a good teacher. Many times during dinner time I saw him going to the local pub The Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath smoking his pipe. During one particular ‘April Fool’s Day’ the class had been taunting him rotten and he took it with good nature. I informed him at the end of the lesson that I had placed a sign on his back which read: ‘Kick me’ and he casually said ‘I know!’ On another occasion, Wednesday 26th September 1984, a boy in class decided to tell Mr. Ball that I had just drawn in the text book. I denied the accusation but I think it was a case of the boy who cried wolf; I had a reputation for bad behaviour. I took it in my stride and didn’t really care either way; it was all part of the adventure! A wonderful man!
The only other maths teacher I recall was named Marsh and he was a great lumbering, clumsy man with a deep voice who didn’t seem to stay very long.

In my first year I remember the music teacher, Mrs. Stevens, a lovely old lady with lots of enthusiasm and energy for the subject; a woman who believed in what she was doing and the integrity showed! She taught us to repeat the poem ‘Vita Lampada’ by Sir Henry Newbolt (1862-1938) with its ‘Play up! Play up! And play the game!’ I was in the school choir, I have no notion of how I got there (just as I have no notion of how I became a member of the school’s Athletics Team, but there I am in the team photograph looking thoroughly bored) and I recall being involved in only one inter-school choir competition; I can’t remember if we won, probably not, and I think it was the first and last performance!
I also quite enjoyed history and one of the history teachers was named Mr. Anney. This heavenly bearded creature with the features of a squat King Edward also featured halitosis that could stun a bull at one-hundred paces. Another redeeming feature of the man was his eyes which were continually in movement as if in a state of tremor and unable to fix a point to focus upon so it was difficult to assess whether he was looking at you or not! He was an enthusiastic teacher and I particularly enjoyed his classes on the ‘History of Medicine and Anatomy’! Another History teacher and one of my form teachers was Mr. Whitby who sported a fine ‘Walter Raleigh’ beard! We gave him the nickname ‘Buzzard’ due to his habit of staring into space as if looking for prey to feed upon. He was an odd man and I think a somewhat tragic figure; I remember some minor scandal surrounding him and I saw him many years later at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery skulking around the exhibits looking a little dishevelled. He looked right into my eyes with his buzzard gaze and fled into the crowds and out of sight! Another favourite teacher who took History was the lovely Christine Keats, a young and attractive woman who went on to become an influential figure in the teacher unions! She became an assistant to the Head, Mr. Griffiths and one day I was passing his office with his door open and I made a comment that the two were having an affair, knowing he would hear it and sure enough he came out like a badger from its set and glared at me!
I don’t remember who took us for Religious Education perhaps because I found it so dull, nor do I remember who took us for Computer Studies which bored me endlessly with its tedious inputting of data merely to write one’s name and print it! Technical Drawing was taught by Mr. Clayton, an elderly gent with an unremarkable personality if I remember correctly and I do not recall who took us for metalwork.
For Biology there was Mr. Goldstein, a Jewish teacher with a hooked nose and piercing cross-eyes beneath a bushy brow wearing a lab coat. A nice enough fellow who failed to notice that I had drawn a swastika (purely for shock value) on my breast pocket which could only be seen in a certain light to replace my school badge which was a yellow cart wheel surmounted by a yellow crown on a black background! Chemistry was taught by Mr. Lacey, a fine fellow whose son would sit in on the end of the lesson after junior school finished and wait to be taken home. Physics was taught by Mr. Millward, a stern yet impeccably dressed man in a suit!
The delectable Miss Parker taught French and she was a very beautiful lady; Pottery was taught by a kind old lady whose name I think was Mrs. Hodgkins.
Art was given by the extremely laid back Mr. Judges and I remember attending a course at the Midlands Art Centre in Canon Hill Park in September 1981 with the Art class, trying various musical instruments and going behind the scenes of the theatre etc. There was another beautiful young teacher named Miss Mathews who flirted outrageously and taught some sort of contextual studies. Other teachers I recall are Mr. Watling, Mr. Braniff and Mr. Hewitt and a large somewhat effeminate man called Cobbledick!
My attendance at school was quite poor to say the least, between 1983 and 1984 I had eleven weeks off school!

There was another great menacing man whose cold stare could chill a boy from a hundred yards! This ‘track-suited terror’ lurked and could be upon a boy with superhuman speed and he was known by all as the P.E. teacher Mr. Ward, another of the great moustaches at the school! The rumour was that he only had one of what most men usually have two of in their trousers and according to legend he slipped at the swimming baths and injured himself! I do not know if this is true or not but the association stuck with him! Physical Education was a bore, I hated swimming, rugby and wasn’t keen on cricket, basketball or football; athletics was dull and so was weightlifting but I didn’t mind badminton so much and cross country running which was a good excuse to get out of school and have a casual walk round the streets or nip off for a cigarette! 
I enjoyed going off the premises at dinner (lunch) time which was strictly forbidden. I had set up my own catering business (ah the delights of Thatcher’s entrepreneurial Britain!) supplying docile swots with chocolate and crisps at a price and making a little for myself; I happily went to the local supermarket in King’s Heath with my order sheet! On one occasion, Thursday 15th March 1984, a day when we caused a teacher named Miss Mason to burst into tears and run out of the class, a boy I knew set the fire alarm off and I was not present at the roll call so I was given a week’s detention: an hour during lunch and an hour during home time!

Mr. Griffiths the Head was the wielder of the cane but the preferred weapon of choice was the ‘slipper’ for minor offences. It was Mr. Ward’s honour to casually ‘slipper’ (actually an old training shoe) me along with three of my friends in the gym for going off premises and taking a trip to the local fish and chip shop in King’s Heath. He took a great run up and seemed to delight in the punishment, his moustache quivering with anticipation! This was on Thursday 26th May 1983. In fact, the same thing had happened at my Junior School, at Billesley, (Headmaster Mr. L. C. Galley) when a group of us went to the local shop and came back festooned and laden with sweets! Some swot of a girl, her mother was a teacher, told on us and it was the job of the Deputy Head, a fine man named Mr. Warburton who stalked the corridors like the figure of Death himself and had a habit of tucking his thumbs into his trouser waist and hitching his trousers up, to administer the beating. Once again it was the ‘slipper’ or what we called the ‘pump’ in the Assembly Hall. This must have been around 1978.  It was the kind Mr. Warburton who told me I was reading like a fourteen year old when I was ten, but I couldn’t stand those awful reading books on the curriculum and made no headway with them at school; at home I was reading encyclopaedias which I believed to be the only form of pleasure in reading! The Headmaster, Mr. Galley, was a mysterious man; I once saw him carrying a bundle in his arms which was a small boy kicking and screaming because he didn’t want to be at school and he unceremoniously burst into the class with him and seated him at his table, where he remained simpering quietly in floods of tears (the boy, not the Headmaster); I don’t recall whether he gave the boy a form of justice in the shape of his hand brought hard and fast upon his backside but it did dispel all rumours that the Headmaster only came out under the cover of darkness!

Many of my friends from Junior School went to my Senior School and I remember one boy who I was not best friends with but I did know him and like him. He had severe eczema and was eternally bullied because of it; he was a scruffy little urchin and whenever I remember him he is always either cringing from someone’s torment or looking over his shoulder. At Senior School Mr. Ward came into our metalwork class and broke the news to us that the boy in question had been hit by a bus and died, this was 1982 I think and I looked round to see the rest of the class smiling, sniggering and laughing – I had never seen anything so cruel and heartless! I didn’t learn anything about metalwork that day but I learnt a lot about human nature!
Some of my friends were also members of the 40th Birmingham Boy’s Brigade back in 75 where I was a member for about three years I think. Someone had told me how to make a battery bomb and I made it to the specifications with the intention of blowing up the Methodist Church where we had our Boy’s Brigade with Captain Nash. Of course I tried to set the thing off to no avail but even at that young age there was a desire for danger! Speaking of Billesley Junior School, my first memory is of being naked with my brother and a young girl being examined together. I cried knowing at this young age (about four of five) that it wasn’t right to be naked in front of a) adults, b) girls and c) strangers! It was all very innocent at the time and I remember the infants had a little fenced-off play area not far from the main gate (there was no sentry on the gate in those days and adults came and went). The infants often played naked in the sand pit or with the water troughs on view for all the world to see and no-one batted an eye lid! That wouldn’t be allowed today!
Another memory is of playing with the bean bags and hula hoops watching the grown-up passers by walking outside the railings and thinking how lucky they were to be free, walking in the sunshine and that someday I would be able to be free like them! School seemed to steal the best hours of the day away from you, the hours before midday and then the time towards two-thirty; I always believed this throughout my school life and it was only after suffering all those years in the name of education that I came to appreciate fully those hours! I pity all children that have to be destroyed by the same methods! I also recall almost drowning at King’s Heath Swimming Baths, where we went with the school. I was limp and to all effects lifeless, not that anyone took notice of me except my friend who dived down and pulled me up! It caused a fear of swimming all through my school years and my young friend, a fiery tempered black boy who I looked up to, used to have pretend fights with me to try and impress the girls (which in his case it mostly did!). He even saved me from Mr. Warburton’s wrath one day as I was busy fighting a young ruffian who had been bullying me. The bully played the coward’s way and tripped my legs so that I hit my head. When Mr. Warburton came rushing to the disturbance my great black friend took a vial of theatrical blood from his pocket and poured it over his face, thus causing a distraction for me and the bully to make our escape! Of course I sought out the bully for a re-match but he smiled with what I thought was a small degree of admiration and no re-match occurred! Mr. Warburton also took a class to King’s Heath and we did some brass and grave rubbings at the Parish Church. I was accused around this time by a silly young girl who told Mr. Warburton that I had been spitting from the top of the multi-storey car park which I think was Sainsburys as we had gone up to see the view of the area! Back in class he singled me out and I denied it. He accepted my answer and said if I find you have said otherwise to anyone I will know! Many tried to get the information from me but my lips were sealed and even to this day the oath remains!
In fact it was at my junior school where I actually cried in front of a teacher! She was a lovely old frightening woman with a deep voice like ‘Peggy Mount’ who shouted a lot but I liked her (and feared her) named Mrs. Hackle. I remember having to learn the words to David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ and make a cardboard replica of Dodge City. I also recall being in a school play and I had to play the part of a tree dressed in a flimsy see-through green gauze material. The reason why I was crying was because it was found I was intellectually above the class and had to be moved up along with my friend, a beautiful young Asian girl! I was reluctant to leave! Another play I was meant to star in as a munchkin was The Wizard of Oz; I remember the rehearsals with Mr. Warburton in the Assembly Hall but I never turned up for the performance! Other teachers at the junior school were Mrs. Brinkley, Mrs. Cran and Miss Bowman who was the music teacher and played the piano during assembly.
But I digress, back to Wheelers Lane!

I really enjoyed English Literature, although the rebel in me would not show any visible interest, I loved books! The teacher, Mr. Goulding was a young idealistic man who had a great enthusiasm for his subject. I regret deeply that I upset his lessons by messing about and taunted him for I actually admired and respected him for talking to us on the same level. He was a laid back, slightly long haired fellow who wore round ‘John Lennon’ spectacles. I am pretty sure his name was David and the class took to calling him ‘Davros’ (as in the character from Doctor Who) and shouting out ‘brown shoes’ because he did indeed wear brown shoes – such was the want of young boys to annoy their teachers with the slightest fancy! Two memorable books we read in class were: ‘A Taste of Honey’ and ‘Of Mice and Men’. It was Friday 9th March 1984 and we had been reading a book called ‘The Outsiders’ and Mr. Goulding had planned for us to visit the Classic Cinema in Station Street where it was showing as a double bill with ‘Rebel without a cause’ starring James Dean, a hero of mine! At the cinema I sat with my two friends whom I shall give the initials as N. S. and P. S. B. and Mr. Goulding sat in front with his beautiful young wife whom we had just met for the first time! I don’t think she stayed for the whole showing of the films for it was not long into ‘Rebel’ when my friends and I noticed the man sitting one seat away from me to my left. He must have been in his seventies and he had a terrible tremor in his right hand which he kept between his legs! He kept looking at me; probably because we were all wearing our school uniforms and he couldn’t believe his luck! And then as the aroma of stale salmon wafted through the cinema aisle Mr. Goulding casually turned round and asked ‘is that man doing what I think he’s doing?’ to which we answered in the affirmative and we all moved a few rows forward at his suggestion. Not perturbed, the old man with his lobster eye winking in the light from the projectionist, stood up and moved closer towards us, sitting down to resume his business! Eventually he got up and left and my eager friends were all for leaving too and following him and exposing him etc. but I was too engrossed in James Dean’s performance to bother with that! It was also in 1984 on Friday 20th July to be precise at the age of fifteen that I took up the art of smoking! I had had the occasional smoke previously but I now took up this charming activity with great enjoyment and even waltzed into the playground smoking a cigarette to the astonishment of many lesser brave souls!

On Friday 28th March 1985, the last day of term, a friend of mine brought into school a large tin of red paint! Another friend and I went absolutely berserk and it ended up all around the school daubed on walls and my friend had taken it outside school and decorated a car with it! Of course I forgot all about it until term began on Monday 15th April 1985 and all hell broke loose! The next day the school caretaker named Wilkins, a nasty vicious little thug made a citizen’s arrest on me and took me to King’s Heath Police Station where I spent a couple of hours in the cell! It was my first and only experience of the cells and I decided there and then that I didn’t ever want to experience them again! On the following day at school Mr. Ward made me write out a statement for the Headmaster which I did. The final exams occurred in June 1985 and by August/September I was free from the hell of school! I turned my back on all that useless waste of time, went to University and made something of myself despite those early years preparing me for a life of handouts and poorly paid work! I still have resentment towards authority and on any occasion will defy and thwart it as much as possible, it’s the old anarchist in me that will not die!